Listening to audio network cables and switches

Preview: HIFICRITIC Vol 14 No2 April-June 2020 issue

I have almost lost count of the 100 or so listening tests recently conducted on network cables and net switches, scrutinised with the aid of an exacting audio system founded on a Naim ND555 streamer with dual PS555DR supplies. With such a task you have to be prepared for a proportion of null results, i.e. no change or no discernible difference, and even these results need repeating just to be sure – as sure as you can be, in that set up, with that state of acuity, with that system, and those chosen track(s).

When all the housekeeping is done, choice of supports, mains cables, available mains supplies, optional power supplies, several network switches, and many CAT cables, sound quality differences can be found, and can be reliably repeated. A ladder of small improvements may be climbed for the connected system where a combination of favoured components located in the network at appropriate locations results in a gain in streamed audio sound quality that could not be achieved by other means.

As always, repeats and further comparison sessions are essential to climb that ladder to better sound. And when you arrive every track you play becomes more entertaining, more satisfying. There is that surprise and delight generated when you have temporarily exhausted those immediate ‘reference’ tracks and access a somewhat frazzled old favourite, for example a ripped from original CD copy of ‘Learning to Fly’ from Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. So far the streamed sound in my system has never quite matched real time ‘High End’ CD replay, not even from the full-fat powered ND555, but with the latest network optimisation, this track has truly come alive, in image depth, in timing, in subtlety, dynamics, focus, and micro detail. I had long experimented attempting to reach this ideal but have some confidence that I have now arrived. The superior drive, rawness, dynamics and rhythm of this earliest transfer to CD is clear, and beats the later ‘hi res’ and otherwise remastered versions, these sometimes beautiful but often somewhat gutless.

The cast list of switches includes the EE 8Switch, the RA SWITCH by Russ Andrews, various NOS Cisco 2960 series references, the Melco s100 (separately reviewed in this issue by Andrew Everard), cables at various lengths up to 15m, generic Cat 5e, Cat 6, Cat 6e, Cat 5e Cat 6 and 6a, Cat 8 sourced from Wireworld, Blue Jeans, Belkin, Belden, AudioQuest, Vertere, Meicord, Supra …

The results will be published in the April-June issue of HIFICRITIC quarterly print magazine, due in mid to late June 2020.

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